Southern Exposure 6: Day 12, Peru

It is Monday, October 28, the morning after the Nats dropped the third straight World Series game at home to the Astros in another lackluster performance. Not the same without Sherzer. Odds for taking home the trophy don’t look good.

So  we are now in  Lima. We passed over  the equator two nights ago, but it is surprisingly cool here due to the chilly Humboldt Current which moves the frigid, Antarctica currents north along the western coast of South America. On shore typical high temperatures this time of year rarely exceed 70 with lows in the 50s. Mornings are usually gray, but the clouds and mist often burn off in the afternoons brightening the seascape and landscape.

 We were here in the late 1970s when we visited our good friends, Hank and Mel Ackerman in Lima. Hank was bureau chief of the AP at the time, and we spent about 10 days with them and their two young children getting a journalist’s perspective on the country. My most vivid memory was touring with Hank one of the huge barrios in Lima. Now euphemistically called an “informal settlement,” the Lima barrio was our first exposure to abject poverty on a massive scale. We also visited Cusco and spent a day in Machu Picchu.  Except for our near death experience due to eating street food in Machu Picchu (duh), the trip was fabulous.

So we are back in Peru, a country of more than 33 million and the center of the vast Incan Empire in the 14th and 15th Centuries. The first of three stops was yesterday in the port serving the small, bustling city of Trujillo on the northern  Peruvian Pacific Coast several hundred miles north of Lima. The main attraction of Trujillo is its proximity to two major archeological sites considered among the best in South America. So the theme of the day was ancient history.

Our two guides for this excursion were women in their forties, both very enthusiastic and proud of their Peruvian heritage, but very difficult for me to understand because of their heavy Spanish accent. The ruins were from two civilizations that preceded the Incan civilization. The first was the Moche civilization, which was dominant in the area for first several centuries in the Common Era. The second was the Chimu civilization, which lasted from 900 CE until the Colonial conquest in the mid 16th Century. One of the guides described herself as a proud Moche descendant and complained that the Incas got all the attention and credit while earlier and just as important civilizations were overlooked.

We will visit the big archeological museum in Lima  and learn more, but what is most interesting is just how far back their history goes. There is evidence that human life in what is now Peru was present as early as 11000 BCE though not much is known about these early human civilizations before about 2000 BCE.  Archeologists now have identified some 18 distinct civilizations prior to the Incas, many quite large and complex with centuries-long histories. One area we visited   was Chan Chan, an ancient, partially restored, Chimu city, which covers several square kilometers. We walked over a mile through a small part of the old city with its restored, adobe walls that made you feel like you were in a huge maze. Without a guide it is the kind of place that you could get lost in for weeks. The other ancient  city was the site of the Sun and the Moon Temples of the Moche civilization, huge impressive adobe structures carved out of the hills.

What archeologists now know about these early people is that religion was very important and for some involved human sacrifice. The sun and moon were both worshipped, and these early Peruvians believed in an afterlife. Rulers were buried in tombs with their prized possessions to help them get a good start in the next life, very similar to the religious beliefs of the ancient Egyptians at about the same time. The restored art work on the walls of the city also looked to me to be very similar to the art of the Egyptians. They also were united behind a strong ruler, and war was central to their dominance. If there were peaceful cultures or civilizations in those ancient times, they did not survive long enough to leave a trace. I guess you could call this one of life’s sad lessons. We are still dealing with this aspect of our human nature today. In spades.

The town of Trujillo is a city of around 200,000 and thriving with traffic jams, lots of honking and the sidewalks full of people. While many of the homes were modest, and the narrow streets had their  usual trash and graffiti, you got the feeling that overall it was a fairly robust and dynamic town. The villages we passed through on our way to the ruins were a different story though not as bleak as what we saw in Ecuador mainly due to the fields of corn and potatoes around them, permitted by extensive irrigation. 

I could not help noticing that the vast majority of homes in the village were only half completed. There was a first floor, but on most houses rebars extended into the air waiting for a second floor to be built. The guide later explained that besides running short on funds to build a second floor, the real reason was that in those villages, only houses that were completed had to pay real estate taxes. 

The entire coastal area of this part of Peru is bone dry but viable for farming due to irrigation. When I asked our guide if it ever rains here, she replied, “Yes, of course, it rains. I heard there was a good shower about 20 years ago.” 

Next post will be about Lima, a mega-city with a population of over 11 million, making it the second largest city in South America, just behind Sao Paola.

One thought on “Southern Exposure 6: Day 12, Peru

  1. Really enjoying your travelogue, especially since we’ll never make it there; one can only accomplish a limited number of bucket list items! Thanks for including the history – which never seems to change – wars/religion/ repeat – as well as the honest descriptions of the local sights and conditions. Thanks for taking time from your adventure to share it with us.

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